Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

It doesn't matter if you're born in a duck yard, so long as you are hatched from a swan's egg!

Hans Christian Andersen

East North
Neither ♠ A K Q J
 A J 10
 9 8 5
♣ 6 5 3
West East
♠ 10 9 6 2
 9 7 5 2
 10 4
♣ A Q 2
♠ 8
 K Q 6 4 3
 Q J 7 3 2
♣ 8 4
♠ 7 5 4 3
 A K 6
♣ K J 10 9 7
South West North East
2♣* Pass 2** Pass
2♠ Pass 4♠ All pass

*Natural, 11-15 HCP.



Mark Itabashi and Ross Grabel won the von Zedtwitz Life Master Pairs in Atlanta last summer. The following deal helped their cause.

If the defenders lead a heart against four spades, declarer wins, tests trumps, then plays on clubs. Whatever the defenders do, he can arrange to set up clubs and neutralize West’s trumps to make 10 tricks.

However, Itabashi actually led the diamond 10 to the ace. Declarer thought it would be smooth sailing until he ran into an unexpected surprise middeal. He played two rounds of trumps, revealing the annoying 4-1 split, and now had to go after clubs. Declarer played a club to the 10, which held the trick. Believing that there were 11 easy tricks available at this point, declarer crossed to another trump in dummy and played a club to the nine. Itabashi now produced the queen and led another diamond.

South’s hand was now dead. Whether he drew the last trump or knocked out the club ace first, there was no way to make the contract. The best he could have done was play the heart ace and ruff a heart, but that still yieldeded only nine tricks. He actually cleared clubs, and now Itabashi won to return yet another trump and doom declarer to two down.

Just for the record, the only winning line today after a diamond lead is to play on clubs after drawing just one round of trumps. Then declarer can arrange either to ruff hearts in hand or establish the clubs.

Your partner's double emphasizes takeout. There is some merit in considering going to the six-level, but with no first-round controls, your objective is to reach your best game. You might just bid five hearts at pairs, but you can also show a two-suiter with a call of four no-trump. Partner will assume the minors and you will correct his five-club call to five diamonds to reach the better red-suit fit.


♠ 8
 K Q 6 4 3
 Q J 7 3 2
♣ 8 4
South West North East
Pass 4♠ Dbl. Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bobby wolffAugust 6th, 2014 at 9:11 am

Hi everyone,

A terrible gaffe in the bidding as it is South who rebid 2 spades over North’s response instead of West and, of course NS played 4 spades instead of EW.

Gremlins were at work and I hope that the hand as depicted above did not go out, or instead was typeset, to all our newspapers the way the above obviously shows.

Having said that, Mark Itabashi made a sensational duck of the 1st club play to his hand, helping his partnership to a great result and a grand overall triumph. I apologize to him for raining on his and Ross Grabel’s parade to victory.

Iain ClimieAugust 6th, 2014 at 9:37 am

HI Bobby,

On a purely double dummy basis, can South ruff a couple of hearts early on, drawing one round of trumps in the process, possibly cash the DK and then feed West clubs? This doesn’t detract from West’s defence, of course.



bobby wolffAugust 6th, 2014 at 10:17 am

Hi Iain,

Yes, of course, declarer could have foreseen what was happening to him, but when the first club held, he obviously became convinced that East had at least the queen of clubs and acted accordingly.

Real fast wit on the part of Mark Itabashi, who used his natural talent to snatch a top board away from his opponents. In the sometimes cauldron of tough bridge competition we sometimes believe what is theoretically in front of our eyes when the first club finesse won.

However, we all have wounds to show for our sometimes naivety and this time the declarer was the victim. All hail the defending champs.

Judy Kay-WolffAugust 6th, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Not to worry, Bobby. Mamma fix! I am having South named as the rightful declarer.

RyanAugust 6th, 2014 at 5:52 pm

I don’t have time at the moment to play this out, but what happens on a 1C open where North declares 4S, assuming East leads a diamond and not the club 8?

bobby wolffAugust 6th, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Hi Ryan,

The hand proceeds exactly on the same lines as does the column hand.

Whoever happens to be the declarer changes nothingl as long as there are no positional advantages or disadvantages, depending on who is declarer. Such is the case here.

At least a mini-lesson can be learned how it is sometimes wise (and even necessary) to lead a somewhat dangerous suit first (here, it is clubs where an immediate return may provide the defense an unexpected trump trick). More often than one might expect, by doing so the declarer can provide the timing necessary in establishing enough tricks to be successful, without which, the timing is not suited to win.

The above fact, in turn, creates a necessity for the defense to try as early as possible, to get a read-out of the overall distribution, keeping in mind the bidding and, just as important, how declarer proceeds with the play.

A game of cat and mouse, to be sure, but one in which the very best players succeed and the “not there yet” set can only dream and hope to acquire the right disciplines to “kill the beast”.

Keep the important questions coming and hope my answers are at least close to target and are read by enough, to be somewhat valuable.